Academic journal article Agricultural and Resource Economics Review

Setting the Standard for Farmland Preservation: Do Preservation Criteria Motivate Citizen Support for Farmland Preservation?

Academic journal article Agricultural and Resource Economics Review

Setting the Standard for Farmland Preservation: Do Preservation Criteria Motivate Citizen Support for Farmland Preservation?

Article excerpt

The multifunctional set of services provided by farmland complicates the task of identifying which farmland should be preserved. For this reason many states and local governments establish criteria to rank and select parcels of farmland for protection. This study examines whether criteria commonly used by state programs to guide purchases of agricultural conservation easements influence public demand for farmland preservation. The results provide policy makers with additional information to assess current ranking criteria that set the standard for farmland preservation.

Key Words: farmland, farmland attributes, PACE programs, probit model, standards

Millions of dollars are spent annually by states to preserve farmland (Nickerson and Hellerstein, 2003). Farmland provides an array of private and public benefits, and this multifunctional character of farmland (Batie, 2003) complicates the task of identifying which farmland should be preserved. As one way to approach the task, states have developed criteria (for example, soil productivity) for ranking and selection of parcels of farmland for protection. These criteria become the means by which demand for farmland preservation, often expressed through public referenda (Myers, 1999, 2001), is transformed into actual purchases of development rights or conservation easements. Generally speaking, these criteria become the standard for determining which farmland the state considers "good" or "deserving" of preservation.

To examine the demand for farmland preservation, willingness-to-pay studies use general descriptors like "prime farmland" or "agricultural land" to describe farmland in their hypothetical choice scenarios (see, e.g., Beasley, Workman, and Williams, 1986; Bergstrom, Dillman, and Stoll, 1985; Drake, 1992; Halstead, 1984; Krieger, 1999). While these studies support an initial allocation of funds toward farmland preservation, they do not enhance the capacity of policy makers to allocate preservation monies between competing farmland parcels.

Since the early work of Gardner (1977), a host of studies (Kline and Wilchelns, 1994, 1996; Rosenberger, 1998) argue that farmland protection is a means to achieving a multitude of social objectives and, to some extent, that these social objectives are reflected in the ranking criteria currently used by many states' purchase of agricultural conservation easement (PACE) programs. Four common ranking criteria include soil productivity, environmental significance, regional importance, and location (Nickerson and Hellerstein, 2003).

These criteria provide insights into the way state PACE programs weigh various benefits provided by farmland. However, it is less clear if these ranking criteria matter to individuals when they decide whether or not to support farmland preservation programs. The willingness-to-pay literature has not examined variation in demand across farmland attributes, and the literature considering the multitude of social objectives associated with farmland preservation has not typically examined preferences for farmland attributes in hypothetical situations involving a private income constraint (e.g., see Kline and Wilchelns, 1998). Consequently, the relationship between state PACE ranking criteria, which prioritize farmland, and public willingness to support PACE programs remains largely unexplored. As a result, it is unclear whether the standards used by PACE programs to judge farmland respond to the public decision to vote for a farmland program. This study addresses this area of uncertainty.

Our survey design examines respondents' decisions to support PACE programs in a hypothetical choice scenario which varies both the mandatory cost of the program and the description of the farmland to be preserved. The description of farmland varies by levels of agricultural productivity, environmental quality, and location. These descriptors are consistent with criteria used by many states to prioritize farmland for preservation. …

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